Starting a ministry to mentally challenged persons

smile of friendship Since there are three levels of friendship–causal, close and committed–it should be our goal to move as many friendships as humanly possible from a causal to a committed friendship. There is means that there are at least 10 things that each of us can and should do in nurturing a friendship grow.

  1. building friendship1.  Recognize you need friends.  It’s the first step that leads to better and more secure friendships.
  2. Look for others in need of a friend.  This may mean reaching out to people whom you might otherwise pass over.
  3. Ask God to bring a faithful friend into your life.
  4. Be approachable by smiling at others.  At times, I’ve been to that I look stern when I’m not aware of my expression.  This means to me that I must be more aware and adjust my facial expression.
  5. Speak to others by name.  Learn names and say the name often.
  6. friendshipListen attentively to others.  Look at the face of the speaker and keep your eyes on the face of the person speaking.
  7. Give genuine compliments and encouragement.  Ge caught noticing the good things in a person.
  8. Ask open-ended question.  Is your daughter feeling better?  How is the job?
  9. Help others verbalize their feelings.  You don’t seem quite yourself today, are you feeling all right?
  10. Look for the kernel of truth in your friends’ criticism.

I’ve learned a great deal about friendship living within the mentally challenged community.  In general, these are people who give of themselves without reserve to people they preceive as an authority figure.  With the slightest encouragement, you become their friend for life.  Yet, shifting on the other foot, they find interacting with their peer may be more difficult.  Within Special Gathering, which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community, we endeavor to help our members establish valued and long-lasting friendship with their peers.

The Power of Courage

Acts 4:29

Central Theme:  God gives us courage to speak and do what is right.

Introduction–Bring one of your gardening books. Explain how much I love gardening and I find it easy to talk to people about gardening.  I like to share tips and information.  Explain how nobody is going to kill me for talking about my garden.  Immediately after Jesus died, arose and ascended into heaven, the church was people who loved Jesus so much that they couldn’t stop talking about Him even though it meant that they would be in trouble.  Have a member read Acts 4:29. 

I.     What would happen to you if you decided to tell every person you met about Jesus tomorrow?  Would that take real courage?

A. Would you be arrested?

B.  Would you be put in jail?

C. Would you be killed?  Would you need courage?

II.     In Acts 12:1-25, we read about a group of people who were so happy that they could not stop talking about Jesus.

A. The church leaders of the day got very angry and put their leaders in jail.

B.  James, the brother of Jesus, was killed.

C. But they had great courage.

III.     We know that Jesus has the power to change lives and we want to tell others about what has happened to us but we are afraid.

1.  God can give us courage and joy.

2.  Tomorrow ask God to give you one person who is hurting and needs your help.

A. Become their friend.

B.  Tell them about Jesus.

Conclusions:  We can make a difference in the world, one person at a time, if we have courage.  God will give us courage if we ask.

God Gives Us what we Need

My God will use his wonderful riches in Christ Jesus to give you everything you need  (Philippians 4:19).

Central Theme:   God gives us what we need.

Introduction–I have an adding machine that can add up numbers and do all kinds of complicated math.  I sometimes use the adding machine to add up all the things I have.  But I cannot always know what I need. God knows and God knows that he will provide for all our needs. Have a member read Philippians 4:19.

I.     Show the book that you found with a letter in it written to God.

1.  It had a list of all our bills and a letter asking for God to help.

2.  I don‘t remember how that prayer/letter was answered but I do know that it was.

3.  I learned during those hard years that God provides for us what we need.

4.  We had to do our part–turn off A/C, etc.

II.     Tell the story of Elijah and the widow.

A. Elijah had told the King that there would not be any rain for three years.  And there was not.

B.  God provided for Elijah by sending birds.

C. He sent him to a widow with a little boy and told her to make him a cake with the last of the oil and flour.  She did and lived

III.     Jesus knows that we have needs.

A. He personally promised to give to us what we need.

B.  As I have loved Him over the years, I have seen He does that for us.

Conclusion:  God gives to us what we need and sometimes He does it in supernatural ways.  Sometimes He does it naturally.

Several years ago, as a few staff from Special Gathering were driving to lunch, we saw a man with a broken leg.  His cast extended from his toe to his hip.  With great difficulty, he was loading a lawnmower into a trailer.  There was an edger on the sidewalk, patiently waiting to be reloaded on to the trailer.  A couple of people in the car said, “That man is a small business owner.”  We all agreed.

I’m not sure how many folks are willing to do the kind of work demanded by the entrepreneur.  In many ways a pastor is an entrepreneur.  Our primary goal is always spiritual.  We are hoping to make an impact on lives, educating them about the most important thing in the world.  Nevertheless, we deal with staffing, volunteers, raising expenses, balancing and making a budget and many other financial and business matters.

Each of us who are building a ministry need some wiggle room.  Recently, at Special Gathering, we’ve been working with a new staff person.  She is wonderful and one of the most teachable people I’ve ever met.  There are so many things that a person who desires to excel in ministry must learn.

Perhaps the first is where is the wiggle room.  At Special Gathering, it was a great adjustment for me to learn where there was NO wiggle room.  I am the kind of person who has 17 irons plugged in ready to utilize.  My personality lends itself to having many projects going all at the same time.  The first year I was at Special Gathering, I maintained my positions in our church as Missions Director.  For twenty years before that time, I had at least one new book that I was authoring while planning magazine articles.  Music was a priority.  My list can go on and on.  One day, our executive director took me out to lunch.  After we had eaten, he folded his napkin and placed it on the table and folded his hands in front of me.  “You need to decide if your priority will be Special Gathering or the 15 other things that are important to you.”

In short, he was saying that my life goal must not have wiggle room.  I must decide–and decide quickly–what my first priority will be and stick with it.  If God has called me to ministry to people with special needs, then I must continue on the path that leads me to that goal.  There are so many scriptures that teach this principle that my mind was immediately filled with pictures of men going to battle with an adequate army.

I could see my husband drawing detailed plans before we started an addition to our home.  I could remember negotiating with the bank to be sure that we had enough money to complete a project we were beginning.  I saw our family sending off our first son to college confident that we had the financial reserve needed to complete his education expenses.

While wiggle room is vital to maintain a healthy outlook,  a life’s goal cannot have wiggle room.  When did you discover your life’s goal?  How easy is it for you to keep your life’s goal paramount in your life?

Each year, I wrestled with what to teach and preach on the Sunday of Christmas.  Then I got the best advice regarding this that I’ve ever received.  It came from Richard Stimson, The Special Gathering executive director.  His advice was simple.

Tell the story.  People don’t come to church in overflowing crowds to hear a new revelation.  They simply want to hear the story of the birth of the Savior of the world.  They want hear about the virgin girl and her perplexed fiance.  They want to wonder in the glory of angels and Magi and “Peace on earth.  Goodwill to me.”  They desire to search with the shepherds for a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.

It’s the story they come to hear.  People want to hear and rejoice in The Story.

For 20 years I knew God had called me to minister within the community of people who are intellectually disabled.  But I could not figure out how to do it.  It seemed impossible until the Lord led me to Special Gathering.

Each time we meet at Special Gathering, we teach the Bible story two different ways.  First, we have a devotional in which all the members join together.  Then, we divide into small groups for Bible study classes.  This is a classroom type teaching.

Our Bible classes are an important part of what we do.  We divide them into two types of classes.  First are the Bible reading classes.  In these classes the members read through a book of the Bible, such as Matthew and we discuss the passage together.  To me discussion classes are most difficult to teach because of several misconceptions.  The most prevalent is that some teachers use these classes as an excuse to not prepare and study for the class.  This leads to a class that is usually ineffective.

The second type of class is a more formal teaching situation in which the teacher shares with the class.  This is the type of class that many people shy away from because they assume that it takes a great deal of work.  In reality, I believe that the verse-by-verse class is the most difficult to study for, if it is to truly have value to the Bible student.  For both classes preparation is the key.  This is the way I have found that I can effectively study to teach a class.

  1. I read over the verses that I’ll be teaching at least a week ahead of time.  I do not try to glean from the verses or study them.  I merely read them several times.  As an example, I read over the verses on Sunday afternoon the week before I teach on Sunday morning.
  2. I quickly jot down anything that I may get from the verses in the Bible.
  3. Several days before I teach, I read over the lesson in the curriculum.  I follow this order.  I READ the BIBLE verses a week before.  Days later, I read the lesson.  At Special Gathering, we use ACCESS published by the Southern Baptist publishing arm Lifeway.  The teacher’s lessons are excellent.  You will find valuable Biblical and historical background.  You will have more material than you can use in a year.  In fact, many new teachers complain that they can’t ever use all the material presented.  That is the point of these lessons.  You can pick and choose what you believe is valuable to your students.
  4. I read and study the Bible each day, in my normal devotions.  I mentally note anything in the scriptures that relates to the weekly lesson.
  5. As I listen to the radio in the car, cruise the Internet or view TV, I write down any current events that relate to the class and the lesson.  I always glean more material than I can imagine.
  6. The evening before I teach, I set down and gather my material and thoughts.  Then I write down the lesson.
  7. I find that 15 minutes should be about 1/4 to 1/2 of a typed page in outline form.
  8. I always keep in mind that I am only going to teach only half of the class time.  The rest of the time is dedicated to  guided discussion.  If my class is 30 minutes, I will be teaching the Bible lesson for only 15 to 20 minutes.
  9. The hardest part for me and probably will be for you is bringing too much material to the class.  If I am to give time for discussion or questions and answers, I must limit the amount of material I plan to present.
The discussion or question and answer part of the lesson is as important as presenting the Bible lesson.  This is another lesson.  To be continued…

Got an interesting call yesterday from a woman who operates an ALF where one of our members lives.  She was balking at filling out the Health and Safety Form that was sent to a member through the mail.  At first she said that she would not fill out any of the information because DeAnna wasn’t competent.  She explained to me that DeAnna had limited understanding because she has a limited comprehension because of a birth defect.  She has the understanding of a third or fourth grader.

I asked if DeAnna had been adjudicated incompetent in a court of law.  “No, but her sister is very protective and I’m not giving you any information.  Where have you gotten information from in the past?” she asked.

“I’ve gotten it from DeAnna,” I explained.

“She can’t give you information.  You don’t understand she has a limited understanding because she is…”

I interrupted, “Yes, Ma’am, I understand that she is developmentally delayed.  However, unless she has been adjudicated incompetent, she can decide whether I receive this information from you.”

“Oh,” she said.  “Who are you?  Are you that Saturday program that takes people to the fair.  You do a terrible job.  I went to the fair one year and I found DeAnna lost and didn’t know where anyone was.  You…”

Again, I interrupted, “No, Ma’am.  We are not that program.  In fact, I have no relationship with them. I even cancel my program on the days that they are having their outings so that no one will get confused.

“They provide no supervision for the people who attend and they make that fact very public.  If DeAnna has attended, she had been told that there will be no supervision.  When The Special Gathering takes people out, we have supervision and we have medical information in case there is a medical problem.”

Again, she countered, “I can’t possibly give you this information because there is a law called HIPPA.  It keeps me from giving you any information.”

“That’s true…unless DeAnna requests the information.  That is why she is required to sign our form, not you.  It would also be a good idea to have her sister sign the form.  There is a form that says that DeAnna and her sister won’t give me the information and that you will be liable for whatever happens.  It’s fine if you want to send that.”

Suddenly, this person realized that I understood something about the community that we served.  “Okay.  I’ll give you the information but her sister will have to agree.”

It was interesting to me that she was refusing to give any health and safety information but she wanted DeAnna to be protected at all times.

In dealing with the professional community, a Christian ministry must earn the respect of the professionals who work with your members.  You probably will not afforded automatic respect just because you have a Master’s Degree and they have a high school diploma or an undergraduate degree.  You won’t be given respect because you have done this for 20 years, and they have only recently opened their group home.  You won’t be given respect even though you have known and worked with your members for a decade and this person has only entered their lives in the past months.

I can only imagine how much respect an itinerate Rabbi from Galilee was given by the scribes and Pharisees in Jerusalem.  However, he earned their respect because he had the respect of the crowds of people.  When your members respect you, this is your greatest ticket to respect.

There are additional steps that will garner their respect.  You will be given respect if you understand the laws under which the professional community must work.  You will be given respect if you give them respect.  You will be given respect when you prove that you are able to help your members in ways that they are not able to help.  It’s not a one stop deal but bundled together, you will gain the respect of the professional community.

Remember you must work with and around these folks.  It is important that they know that you are working with them not against them.  However, there is a time stand your ground.  Even that will help to gain their respect.

What are some other ways you have found that will earn the respect of the professional community?  Do you even think this is important?  Can you have a working relationship without mutual respect?

Have you thought about this?  What does my staff need to know in order to run a safe program?  What information do we need to harvest from our members to be able to access emergency information?

There are two schools regarding this issue.  First, if you don’t have any information, you may not be liable.  There is a club that runs in the middle of our state.  These are good folks wanting to do good things for the mentally challenged community.  They don’t have any information about the people they bring together for entertainment.

Second, gather as much information as you believe owill be enable you to run a safe program.  At Special Gathering, we worked with many nurses and social workers (support coordinators) to be able to determine what we needed.  These are the things we were told by many professionals that would be needed.

  1. Name of the members
  2. Address, City, State and Zip code
  3. e-mail address of closest relative or staff
  4. main phone number
  5. Date of birth
  6. Name of closest relative
  7. Address, city, state and zip of closest relative
  8. Home, work, cell and any other phone number
  9. Persons to notify in case of emergency (other than closest relative)
  10. Home, work, cell and other phone numbers of emergency person
  11. Name, phone number of support coordinator
  12. Information regarding the person competency status.  (This is a confusing area.  The best question to ask is:  Have you been adjudicated incompetent by a court of  law?
  13. Name and phone numbe rof guardian
  14. List of chronic medical conditions.  Also, a list of procedures necessary if the condition worsens while at Special Gatheirng
  15. Does the person have seizures
  16. List all allergies
  17. List all medications.

Additionally, because of HIPPA Law, we ask that a Consent to Release Confidential Information form be filled out.  This form includes:

  1. Individual’s name
  2. Date of Birth

Statement to support coordinator:  I do hereby authorize the Agency for Person with Disabilities or its representatives to release the information check below from my records, or those of my child, or the individual for whom I am legal guardian.

In the form have these items pre-checked:

For Healthy and Safety

  1. Medications
  2. Allergies
  3. Emergency contacts
  4. Seizure activity
  5. Emergency contact information
  6. Notification of adjudication of incompetency
  7. Notification of change of Support Coordinator (or social worker).

For Pastoral Care

  1. Notification of Hospitalization
  2. Notification of Death in the family
  3. Notification of other sadness

Include name and address of ministry staff who will be responsible for recording this information.  Signatures should include:

  1. Signature of individual
  2. Signature of parent/guardian
  3. Signature of witness (if signed iwth a mark)

The third form is a Support Coordinator Release letter  It should look like this:

Dear (The name of the person’s support coordinator should be put on a line and will need to be  explained on the form)

I am a member of The Special Gathering.  I would like The Special Gathering to be kept up to date with any health concerns that may be needed in an emergency, such as midicine I take and allergies I have.

I would also like The Special Gatheirng to be notified in case I need pastoral care.  If I am sich or hospitalized, if there is a death of a joved one or of other sadness.

The Special Gathering worked with two support coordinators in desinging this release form, but if you have one you would rather use, please bring it to me to sign.

I would also request that you reissue this release form every year at my support form.


________________                                  _________________________________

Member signature                                        Parent of guardian sign

Date                                                                     Date

The fourth form is a simple statement signed by the member what states that they do not want to give any information to Special Gathering.

Except for a member’s salvation, there are few things that are more important than the safety of our members.  As our executive director, Richard Stimson said, “We cannot survive a breach of confidence within the community.”  God blesses those who are wise enough to prepare for the harsh weather

We can succeed if we obey God

Luke 5:9

Central Theme:  Obedience is the key to success with Jesus.

Introduction–Show a simple paper clip.  This was made by an inventor who was struggling with the big problems of his business.  But one day, sitting at his desk he found a piece of straight wire and he started to bend it.  Then he realized that it could be used to help papers stay together when he bent it in a certain way.  It was strong and it would work.  This inventor learned that sometimes it is the little things that make you very successful.  Have a member read Luke 5:9.

I.     Jesus got into a boat that was anchored on the shore.  Then told the boat owner–who was Simon and became Jesus’ disciple–to go into the deep part of the lake and fish (Luke 5:1-11).

A. Peter, James and John had worked all night and caught no fish but they obeyed.

B. They caught many fish.

C. Jesus told them that from that time, they would still be fishermen but they would catch men–not fish.  They would be fishers of men.

II.     Obedience must be in the little things.

A. As a child, the questions was “What if the communists came and took over our church. Would you deny Jesus?”

B. As an adult, I found that it was the little things that made me stumble.  It wasn’t the big things like denying Jesus when times were tough.

III.     All of the law of God can be wrapped up in 10 simple sentences–the 10 commandments.

1.  I wanted to do big things for the Lord but God required me to live a simple life.

2.  I was sure that my life would Count for God.

A.      It does but only when I obey in the simple things.

B.           Don’t cause confusion at work.

C.           Do the best you can in all your work.

D.      Be kind and considerate of other people.

Conclusion     Obedience gives us success with God.

Honor Your Mother

Ruth 4

Central Theme:  We must love and respect our mothers.

Introduction–I could not imagine how much my mother loved me until I had a child–my son.  I could not imagine how a mother could love two or three children until I had our son and daughter.  I could not imagine how a mother would be willing to sacrifice until I had all three children. Have a member read from  Ruth 4

I.     Tell the story of Ruth, Boaz and King David.

A. Ruth was David‘s grandmother.

B. She was a woman who trusted God in what she did.

II.     The Bible says that mothers will be made holy by having and raising children.

A. Your mother loves you like no other person on earth.

1.  She was willing to give her life to give you birth.

B. God gives mothers a special place in the scriptures.

III.     Mothers are special To God.

1.  We are to treat our mothers with great respect and love.

Conclusions:  God commanded that we love our parents.  Logic tells us that is a good idea.

God Gives Us Gifts

Romans 12:6-8

Central Theme:  God gives us good gifts. 

Introduction–We all know about the three persons of God. There is the Father–who gives to everyone.  There is Jesus who died for the church.  The Holy Spirit was given to help Christians. 

       I.     Have a member Read Romans 12:6.

              A. People who study the Bible don‘t always agree about the Gifts God gives us.

              1. There are gifts given by the Spirit to enable Christians to grow and they are talked about in I Corinthians 12

              2.  There are gifts given by Jesus–which help the church to grow and they are given in Ephephians 4

              3.  There are gifts given by God the Father and they are given to every person–like the sunshine and rain—presented in Romans 12:6.

           II.     The overall purpose of all the gifts is so that people will come to love and worship God.

              A. Everyone person born is given a gift from God–at least one.

              1.  Most of us do not recognize that we have gifts and we don‘t try to develop our gifts.

              2.  Each of us will be happier if we know Jesus and learn what our gifts are.

              B. Being disabled does not mean that you don’t have gifts–sometimes it means that your gifts are amplified because those gifts are all that people see.

     III.     The disciples were successful in their walk with the Lord because they worked with their gifts.

              A. Paul was an organizer and person who could write out doctrine for the church.

              B. Peter was a prophet who could preach until the heavens opened and blessed the people.

              C. John was a servant/helper who was able to get things done for everyone else.

Conclusion–We need to use our gifts for Jesus.

Drawn and thin, the teenage hospital patient sat for hours in the waiting room communicating with his friends through the Internet.  They sent messages and talked.  He laughed and typed.  Looking at pictures sent to him, he would respond and receive even more messages.  He was using a social media that I’d not seen before called My Space.  This was perhaps 10 years ago and my mother was in the hospital.   As I observed the young man and his Internet activities, I realized that I was watching the beginnings of a new world.  It was my first introduction to the importance that the Internet played in the lives of people under 30 years old. 

Later, several teens came to visit at our home.  Sure, they filled their hours with computer games but they, also, played “shopping games” using online stores.  Filling their carts at various items, they did “virtual” shopping without actually purchasing anything.  In fact, these young men and women spent no time in front of the TV but gathered around the computer entertaining themselves for hours.

When I began to blog, I had only one true goal, I wanted ministry to person’s with developmental disabilities to have a presence on the Internet.  I had seen that people under 30 use this resource for every imaginable activity.  They play, shop, pretend, work and communicate on the Internet.

Three years later, after a good deal of resistance, I opened a FaceBook page.  Then a Twitter account (@lindaghoward).  My son wanted me to be able to SKYPE.  He set up that account for me.  I have a LinkedIn account.  I text message my grandchildren, rather than email or make a phone call because that is how they want to hear from me. 

While this constant learning process is probably good for my brain, I was thrilled that my blog can now automatically forward to my FaceBook page and my Twitter account.  There is a limit to the time I want to invest inside this “brave new world.”

Eventually, the question must become, how much is enough?  Juggling the Internet options available can become a full-time occupation.  Those brave young men and women who seem to coast effortlessly from one Internet function to another are a marvel; but I’ve seen that even they aren’t able to keep all the ball in the air at the same time.

I’m reminded of Solomon who wrote that there is no end to the number of books that can be written.  In like manner, there is no end to the number of ways you can use the Internet in your ministry.  However, Solomon concluded that we are to beware because much study wearies the mind and body. 

What are the Internet programs  that you find essential to conducting your ministry?  What are some of the things you would like to access but you don’t have time to do?

One day while training a new Special Gathering staff member, I asked him if he would clean up a mess left by our members in one of the Bible study classroomes.  He told me, “I don’t clean up messes like this.  I’ve paid my dues.  I did that in my other job.  I don’t have to clean up other people’s garbage now.”  That was the wrong answer.  Obviously, he didn’t last long in Special Gathering.  One of the hallmarks of a special needs ministry is that you always “get to clean up the messes.”

It is true that at camp, the camp directors have found that it is not a good stewardship of our time to be tied up for an hour or two in “mess fixing” the nasty bathroom accidents.   That is because during those times, other circumstances come into play; and that is when real emergencies seem to happen.  We’ve found that many times emergencies can be averted by a simple word from a director.  Therefore, we have tried to find people who feel it is a privilege to do this type of work.  (Yes, Martha, there are other people out there like you.)

In special needs ministry, I believe it isn’t the task that is important.  It is the attitude that dictates godliness.  Actually, in all ministry, that is true.  When our attitude becomes one of  true servanthood rather than haughty eliteness, God will bless us and it becomes a joy to be the servant of others.

About fifteen years ago, a widow wanted a quality group home to be built in our county for her son.  For years, her son had been associated with Special Gathering (SpG).  She desired that once built, SpG would oversee the supervision and run the home.

During a SpG board of director’s meeting, there was a heated discussion when the proposal was presented.  One board member adamantly opposed this arrangement.  She argued that group homes require authority, control and oversight on a daily basis.  She believed that our healing mission of evangelism and discipleship would be compromised.  The prophet Isaiah speaking for the Lord agreed with her.  His approach had been “Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people.”

her logic prevailed, even though the other board members resisted her for a time.  One at a time, each person saw the wisdom of her line of reasoning.  It was finally voted that SpG would not own or operate group homes.

The Lord has made our mission clear.  We are a ministry within the mentally challenged community whose purpose is evangelism and discipleship.  Many things come under this broad heading, but the daily operation of group homes is not one of them.

Staff members of SpG do believe that under most circumstances group homes are a better alternative for mentally challenged people than living alone in their own apartments.  Our concern is not a preference of housing arrangements; but it is a concern over the  level of supervision that is provided in most states for people living in their own apartments.  However, this the personal opinion of our staff members, not the policy of our SpG, Inc. board of directors.

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